American Farmland Trust and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System collaborated on this project aimed at developing and disseminating: Farmland ConneCTions – A Guide for Connecticut Towns, Institutions and Land Trusts Using or Leasing Farmland. The goal is for the guide to become a standard resource on farmland leasing in Connecticut. The effort to plan and produce this publication was supported by a group of expert advisors, including farmers who had worked on leased land and who had experience in negotiating long-term and successful leasing arrangements.The full-color guide provides detailed information on the benefits of leasing land and summarizes key elements of successful lease agreements for all potentially involved entities to consider, including farmers and landowners, municipalities, land trusts, and non-farming landowners. It also presents case studies of community farms in Connecticut as a means of protecting farmland while serving local food production and other needs, such as public education about food production. AFT has printed 750 copies of the guide and is now carrying out its dissemination strategy, which includes asking allied groups and organizations in Connecticut to announce its availability to their target audiences. In addition, two webinars to present and discuss the guide were held in September of 2011. AFT expects that, as a result of the guide’s dissemination and use, a new standard for leasing to farmers will emerge that includes longer and more flexible terms that will foster farm profitability and sustainable management, while providing opportunities for those who want to farm for a living to do so.
AFT fulfilled the project objective to produce a guide on farmland leasing and its legal and practical ramifications. During the pilot phase of this effort (not funded by NE SARE), AFT and its team of expert advisors identified a number of towns and land trusts that were seeking to rent or lease farmland. This team included representatives from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Connecticut Farm Bureau, Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, Connecticut Farmland Trust, a land use attorney, and two commercial farmers (one using town-owned land and one using land trust-owned land.) Then, AFT hosted a meeting with the towns and land trusts as a group to answer their questions and provide additional information on leasing. AFT also gathered information from other sources on successful leasing practices. Then, with the support of Northeast SARE and others, AFT began work on drafting and developing the guide, including:
Deciding on the overall content and framework, including determination of any additional towns and land trusts that should be interviewed.
Drafting and finalizing the guide outline, including collecting materials on leasing and identifying and drafting the selected case studies on community farms in the state.
Producing the final draft and sending it out for review and feedback from the advisory team and others.
Final editing, formatting and printing of the guide.
The Farmland ConneCTions guide was printed in August 2011 and AFT is working to distribute 750 copies to selected groups and agencies in the state. AFT has asked the following allied agencies and groups to publicize its availability: University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, New Farmer Alliance, CFBA Young Farmers (Connecticut Farm Bureau), Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, Connecticut Land Conservation Coalition, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. (Further details on outreach are provided in that section of this report.)
The value of farmland in Connecticut, as in other largely urban-influenced states, rose steeply during the past decade. As a result, higher land prices are putting farm ownership out of reach, which has spurred interest in leasing farmland as a potential alterative. In fact, the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture estimated that 30 percent of farm operators in Connecticut rely, either in part or entirely, on leasing farmland. While farmland owned by non-farmers (including land trusts and municipalities) represents a potential source for leasing, many non-farming landowners lack basic information about leasing arrangements and are reluctant to enter into them. In addition, towns and land trusts that have protected farmland often lack the staff or expertise to assess the opportunity of leasing it for agricultural use. To increase the availability of working land through leasing, more attention is needed to educate land-seekers and landowners about the potential benefits of leasing and various options for structuring stable and successful tenancy arrangements.
Collaboration with a team of expert advisors has been a key aspect of AFT’s approach to this project. Because of the input and advice received from the agricultural agencies and associations comprising this team, the guide is poised to become a standard resource on farmland leasing in Connecticut.
Because of the availability of the guide and its useful information, AFT expects that more agricultural land owned by non-farming landowners will become available to Connecticut farmers on terms that support economically and environmentally sustainable farm operations. More specifically:
At least 15 towns and seven land trusts will commit to reviewing their lease agreements.
Stakeholders representing at least 50 municipalities and 25 land trusts in Connecticut will receive hard copies of the guide
As a result of posting the guide on key websites (including those of AFT, the University of Connecticut, its advisors and the USDA Risk Management Agency), an average of 15 copies will be downloaded each month for the six-month period following the guide’s receipt or review.
Another outgrowth of this project is that the University of Connecticut is hiring a part-time staff position to focus on providing technical assistance to land trusts, municipalities and institutions that are interested in exploring farmland leasing.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
To publicize the guide and assure its wide dissemination and use, AFT and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension issued press releases to announce its availability and AFT hosted two webinars in September 2011. The webinars were attended (virtually) by 42 participants and generated nearly 200 visits to the Farmland ConneCTions page on AFT’s website. They covered a range of topics, such as tenure options, practical and legal considerations in drafting a lease, and other issues that commonly arise in leasing farmland. Also, examples of community farms were presented and discussions took place on sustainable agriculture methods that may be included in lease agreements. The feedback from the webinars was positive and all of the participants indicated that they had learned a good deal about leasing land, as indicated by the following comments:
“[The webinar] was a great general overview of leasing land. I found the Aspects of a Good Lease as well as the potential resources very helpful. I look forward to reviewing the Farmland ConneCTions guide!”
“Even though our situation is different here in Westchester County, New York, I can take advantage of the information and resources.”
The printed guide is available through the organizations/agencies of our expert advisors and partners.
The guide can also be downloaded from:
AFT expects that as land trusts and towns begin using the guide as a reference on leasing agricultural land, a new standard will emerge for land leasing. This will benefit both farmers and landowners by improving farm profitability at the same time as ensuring sustainable management of land. Communities that welcome agriculture leasing on town-owned land or land protected by the local land trust will benefit because the land will remain in agricultural production and indirectly support the local economy. To the extent that non-farming landowners pursue more stable tenancy agreements with farmers, communities will benefit as farmers become more responsible stewards of the land, yielding an array of positive environmental and quality-of-life impacts.
This project has already spurred similar efforts in other states. The Rhode Island Land Trust Council is in the process of modifying AFT’s guide for use in that state. Also, the New England-wide Land Access Project (a project in which AFT and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension are participating) is planning to develop a similar guide aimed at non-profit, institutional and municipal farmland owners that will be made available in the other four New England states.
With access to land being a continuing barrier to farm business entry and expansion, the identification of and outreach to non-farming landowners (public and private; institutional and individual) about the ways in which they can keep their farmland in farming will continue to be critical. AFT’s experience with this project bore out the fact that – while practical considerations around land leasing are much the same for land seekers and landowners everywhere – the legal considerations and available resources all vary by state. The project also reinforced AFT’s sense that more should be done to identify and connect farm seekers and non-farming landowners through expanded and coordinated land identification, listing and linking efforts, and additional outreach to non-farming landowners to engage them in the mechanics of farmland leasing and transfer. To that end, AFT is leading work on a proposal (for submission to Northeast SARE) with partners in New York and New England on a new training effort to help address further needs in this area.